The first thing to acknowledge is that there is time for Chelsea to make a success of this transfer window. It is the first week in July, not the last in August. Those within the club’s recruitment department can justifiably point to the late arrivals of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso last year, and the impact both players had on the team’s title success, as evidence that significant additions can be plucked from the ether right up to the cut-off.
And yet, not for the first time, they have made a rather undistinguished start in attempting to capitalise upon their status as champions. Suggestions Romelu Lukaku is to break off from a holiday to undertake a medical overseen by doctors dispatched by Manchester United to the University of Los Angeles, such a favourite pre-season training haunt of José Mourinho’s teams over the years, left the striker’s suitors in London winded. Perplexed even. All summer the assumption had been that the Belgian’s innate desire to return to Stamford Bridge would be key to securing him from Everton.
But somehow, maybe as a result of complacency on Chelsea’s part, or possibly upon the advice and influence of the player’s agent, Mino Raiola, they have been bypassed.
There may be public attempts to dismiss this failure as insignificant over the weeks ahead, and an insistence that the man they do end up signing for a huge sum to replace Diego Costa – Real Madrid’s Álvaro Morata, Andrea Belotti from Torino, or even an Alexis Sánchez or Sergio Agüero from a direct Premier League rival – had always been their first choice. But the reality is Antonio Conte had been pinning his hopes on Lukaku leading the line.
Those reports in Belgium, that the Chelsea manager had been in regular contact with the Everton forward over recent weeks detailing his tactics for next season and making plain just how key he considered Lukaku to his game-plan, have never been contested. The player himself expected to return to south-west London. The manager anticipated welcoming him back into the fold.
Now Conte will stride back into his office at Cobham on Sunday, 24 hours before the first team are due back for pre-season training, demanding an explanation for the board’s apparent inertia over recent weeks. Sources in Italy, while aware the manager is distinctly unimpressed with the summer’s business to date, do not believe his sense of exasperation will prompt a resignation, though the contract extension which has been on the table for months remains unsigned. Neither will he be appeased by the club permitting him to add Davide Mazzotta, his opposition scout with Italy at Euro 2016, to a coaching staff shorn of Steve Holland. Instead, he will require answers.
Why was a formal bid for Lukaku, a player the manager had made clear should be targeted, never submitted to Everton? Why, for that matter, is Willy Caballero – a reserve goalkeeper secured under freedom of contract following his release at Manchester City – still the only player added to the champions’ squad? What is the hold-up with the medicals delaying the arrivals of Tiémoué Bakayoko from Monaco and Antonio Rüdiger from Roma? And the state of play on negotiations for Alex Sandro at Juventus? Big-money transfers can be tediously protracted and complicated but it is too simplistic to suggest the club are waiting to shelve the old Adidas training gear and parade an array of signings in glittering Nike kits.
The manager had hoped the bulk of the buying would be achieved early so he could fling them into the gruelling routine of double training sessions, and settle them into a squad who depart for a three-game tour of China and Singapore on 18 July. Some should have arrived by then – Bakayoko and Rüdiger are close – but the prospect of Chelsea departing for east Asia with Michy Batshuayi, a bit-part player last term, as their principal forward is suddenly very real. The manager bears some blame given his rash text to Diego Costa, subsequently made public by the disaffected striker, indicating the Spain international has no future at the club. The player, who scored 20 top-flight goals last term, has started bidding farewell to his club-mates and if, as anticipated, Atlético Madrid submit a first formal offer for him over the next few days, he will most likely be absent on Monday, when the rest of the first team return to Cobham.
Source: The Guardian